The Spirit gives God’s people boldness to speak the good news.
Peter and John (Acts 3) had met a man who was crippled and begging for money. Peter offered him not money, but in the name of Jesus Christ the miracle of being able to walk. The man was healed and Peter preached to the crowd that had gathered. The events happened in and around the temple, and the religious authorities had Peter and John arrested, and after a night in jail the two were warned by the authorities never to do this again and let them go. The text picks up the story from there.
The text is the response of the early church to its first serious opposition. Acts 2 ended with the statement that the church enjoyed “the goodwill of all the people.” Now there is an order to be silent. The church’s response is to pray. What else should Christians do when faced with opposition? What else should the church do when it is ordered to stop speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit in God’s name? The early church understood this was a spiritual matter, a matter for God’s action, a matter beyond the power of mere mortals to respond to.
The prayer opens with the church reminding itself of where the real power is and who they are loyal to. The God who made all things is the God who stands in opposition to human powers and authorities, as the quote from Psalm 8 states. The church had witnessed the powers – Herod, Pontius Pilate, etc. – line up against Jesus, the anointed. And God had vindicated Jesus because all things were in God’s hands. Having reminded themselves of their theology, the church made its request. In what we actually believe is revealed, our functional theology is exposed.
The church’s prayer was not a request to be kept safe, nor was there a request that the human authorities change their minds. No, the request was, that while aware of the threats of human beings God would act:
- to help the church speak with boldness;
- continuing to bring about healings;
- in further signs and wonders in Jesus’ name.
These are all evangelistic acts. Proclaiming the good news of Jesus; being bold in expecting healing by God’s power; and participating in signs and wonders which draw people to hear the message of Jesus. Those gathered in prayer got exactly what they asked for as the Holy Spirit came in power and they “spoke the word of God with boldness.”
The text gives the preacher the opportunity to reflect on the “authorities” that seek to silence the proclamation of the gospel in their congregation’s context. The list could include: societal values that say people can believe whatever they want and should not be evangelized; ridicule and hostility when acquaintances discover someone is a Christian; fear of not knowing what to say; and so on. Having explored those things, the preacher with boldness needs to challenge people to pray for the Spirit to give them boldness in their proclamation. The Spirit fires our proclamation that we might speak the good news with boldness.
“Courage, it would seem, came no more easily to these people than to us. Peter and John had indeed shown boldness before the Sanhedrin, but to maintain their courage they were dependent upon the Holy Spirit whose gift it was.” — I. H. Marshall
“If I, like Peter and John, had had a close and potentially disastrous brush with the authorities, my prayer would be for divine protection rather than boldness! Yet, the only thing the community asked of God is the power “to speak thy word with all boldness (4:29). It is God’s business to heal and to work signs and wonders in the name of Jesus (4:30). It is the community’s business to speak the word with boldness in the midst of the mighty acts of God.” — William Willimon
“God of grace and God of glory”
“Our voice would be a useless cry” (Marie Post)
We thank you, Sovereign Lord,
creator of sky, earth and sea and everything in them,
that you spoke by your prophets:
stretch out your hand now to heal,
perform among us miraculous signs and wonders:
fill us with your Holy Spirit
that we too may speak boldly for you;
through the name of your holy servant, Jesus. Amen.
— written by Michael Perry. Posted on the Jubilate website. http://www.jubilate.co.uk/